Every coin has two sides. So does this pandemic situation. Last December, I had plans to attend deTour, an annual design festival in Hong Kong. However, due to the pandemic, the physical exhibition was closed early, and “The Misused Workshop: Re-imaging Everyday Hardware” that I signed up for, was switched to online mode instead. I was actually quite disheartened by the online arrangement, but the workshop turned out to be a fun and interesting experience. As a participant, I was given the opportunities to re-imagine and explore the infinite potential of everyday hardware. Hardware, which is often considered unremarkable and cheap, was repurposed with creativity and imagination, and turned into pieces that serve both aesthetics and functionality. Liang-Jung Chen, the instructor of the workshop as well as the co-founder of The Misused, centered the workshop around the concept of “misused” — What is proper usage? What does it mean to misuse something? And how can users redefine an object that has a designated purpose? During the workshop, participants were asked to look for metal hardware and accessories around them. For those who were at home, they found screws, hooks, door locks, strainers, etc. If you look closely, you will find these ordinary but seemingly indispensable items are both functional and beautiful. According to Liang-Jung, hardware has huge unfulfilled potential that is waiting to be discovered.
L: Back in 2017, I was working as an industrial designer in a furniture factory in Taiwan. At that time, I had a lot of chances to handle mass-produced products and their components. Because of my job, I have the habit of collecting material samples. Among the various product components, metal hardware is comparatively smaller in size and easier to store, so I started to collect them. As my collection built up, I started to think maybe I could do something fun with them. At that time, I just happened to be living with my grandmother in the countryside, and I noticed how the local elders creatively improvise daily necessities with existing objects. I was deeply fascinated. The idea of This Misused began to take shape. I want to unleash the potential of hardware.
O: Why are you particularly fond of metal hardware?
L: Hardware is considered cheap and often neglected. But the fact is, they are indispensable for they play such an essential role in connecting different components together. The contrasting views on hardware amuse me.
O: What is your view on the usage of metal hardware in different parts of the world? Anything that impresses you a lot?
L: I moved to London at the end of 2018. I learned about the city by observing the metal hardware on the streets. I discovered that London is a very defensive city. For example, benches are built with anti-skateboarding devices and the utility poles are often equipped with spiked collars to prevent vandals from climbing. There are folding parking posts on the roadside to prevent illegal parking. There are various kinds of devices that are set to stop people from sliding down the banisters. There are even deterrents to keep birds away from the rooftop.
All these metal hardwares I saw in London can hardly be found in Taiwan. I think the reason why there are so many deterrents in London is because the city is basically a melting pot of cultures. They need these deterrents and devices to restrain the unruly behavior of some of their citizens. In fact, you can tell a lot about a city by observing the hardware found in that place, such as ethnicity, culture, climate, history, geography, religion, and history.
O: How did you come up with the idea of “misused”? What comes to your mind when you think of misusing the hardware?
L: “Misused” is a two-sided concept — What is proper usage? What does it mean to misuse something? While functionality is a top priority in normal product design, I think the misused objects are meant for facilitating communication. They serve to inspire the viewers to imagine. Therefore, the philosophy of misusing is similar to doing conceptual designs, with both aiming to inspire the viewers. What amazes me the most in regard to misusing is the change of functionality of hardware. During the creation process, sometimes I am so inspired that I just need to take one look at the hardware and then I can come up with a design. On the contrary, there are times that I can’t come up with a satisfying idea at all after days and days of work. There are also times when I have to weed out designs that are simply not good enough.
O: I notice that you’d deconstruct and re-assemble the hardware in order to make your designs more applicable to daily life. Do you have a favourite design?
L: Among the 10 items I created for the Misused Objects 3.0, UK in 2020, I like this tape dispenser the most. It is made of wheels and metal hardware, and symbolises the act of rolling. The concept of this design came so quickly into my mind that it was like an intuition.
O: You have hosted so many workshops to promote the philosophy of misusing. Is there any memorable or interesting experience you can share with us?
L: It is so much fun hosting workshops. It gives me a chance to learn from others. Last year, a lot of events had to be canceled or switched to online mode due to the pandemic. But I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing. With the online mode, there is no more geographical restriction. People can participate virtually from anywhere around the globe. Personally, I had the chance to meet Eva and Brian virtually during the pandemic. They are designers from Hong Kong. We collaborated and organized two workshops together. Although I could not physically pay a visit to Hong Kong, the insights shared by the participants during the online workshop have provided me an interesting glimpse of Hong Kong. I would say the pandemic is actually unleashing people’s creativity and ability to connect. It also gives me a chance to explore the various ways of human interaction.
O: Are there places or shops that you’d go hunting for hardware?
L: I don’t really visit the hardware stores on purpose. I usually stop by when I just happen to be around or that when I need to get something for work. Recently, I paid a visit to Maison Empereur in Marseille, France, and I was really impressed. Maison Empereur sells various traditional hardware and other merchandise. The store first opened its door in the 18th century and still has its old spirit and architecture intact. It remains today as an essential place to visit by the locals and travelers. I consider the hardware store a cultural museum for the common people. It represents the various cultural values and heritage of a city. It is a place that can most directly reflect on the lifestyle of the locals.
O: How can we rediscover the beauty of hardware based on the philosophy of misusing?
L: Before giving it new meanings and functions, we should first “deconstruct” the hardware. There are so many ways to do it. For example, from a more concrete perspective, we can look at the shape, material, processing methods, surface treatment, color, etc. In a more abstract manner, we can look into the design concept, functionality, symbolic meaning, level of localization, and user experience. Looking at hardware from different perspectives allows us to understand how and where they come from. The beauty of hardware lies in their functionality, relatively low cost, and durability. They usually have such a refined and neat design. Nothing extravagant and outrageous.
O: How did the founding of The Misused inspire you?
L: I can now easily think outside the box and look at things from different perspectives. This is not only applicable to my design journey but also applicable to all aspects of my life. Looking forward, I hope that I can publish my observations on hardware around the world.